The timing couldn’t be more delicious, nor could the symmetry. Just
as Greg Dyke steps into the director-general’s office at the BBC,
Richard Eyre, his rival over at ITV and the man he pipped to the BBC
post, prepares to take up Dyke’s old job at Pearson Television.
But this is not so much a delightful game of musical chairs, more a
dramatic reshuffling of the TV pack at one of the most crucial times in
UK broadcasting history.
Just as the BBC is enjoying something of a ratings revival (blame the
dinosaurs), the licence fee issue is coming to a head (whatever the
outcome, there will be more money for the Corporation one way or
another), and as competition for ITV’s audiences and ad revenue reaches
unprecedented levels, ITV is losing its big gun.
The likely impact of Eyre’s departure on ITV should not be
Of course, as chief executive of the ITV network, Eyre has compiled a
strong team in the shape of David Liddiment, programme director, and
John Hardy, marketing director, both of whom deserve much credit for the
stability and improved reputation at the Network Centre.
This is Eyre’s legacy to his ITV paymasters. But perhaps the most
valuable thing Eyre has brought to ITV is one he will, inevitably, be
taking away with him: the voice of reason which has gone a long way to
win over ITV’s sales operations, agencies and even some advertisers. The
consummate presenter, Eyre has crafted a slicker, more persuasive and
more considered ITV which has smoothed feathers, delivered on a fair
proportion of promises and brought a veneer of cohesion to the
previously factional ITV network.
Without Eyre, the ITV broadcasters will have to work hard to maintain a
semblance of unity. There can be no doubt that behind the scenes Eyre
had many battles to fight with his disparate ITV bosses but, for the
most part, ITV seemed, finally, to be acting as a network. Whoever
replaces Eyre has to be strong enough to fight his corner with Carlton,
United News & Media and Granada - and maintain the momentum - because
there’s a long way to go before ITV is in the clear.
Meanwhile, ITV will have to contend with a revitalised BBC under Dyke
and the possibility of Eyre pissing into its tent from Pearson. With
Pearson now a leaner, slicker operation, its publishing interests
turning in a solid performance, there can be no doubt that the company’s
focus will now turn to its lacklustre TV division.
With Eyre at the helm and ambitious to increase its stake in Channel 5,
Pearson could become the latest broadcaster to attempt a strike at the
heart of ITV. What a springboard that could be for Richard Eyre’s second
assault on the BBC job, just to complete the symmetry.
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